Sharks In First Place at Halfway Point
Coach McLellan Looking for a Little More Consistency
No one in the Sharks organization is saying another first overall finish is the top priority, but there’s no question that being one of the NHL’s elite franchises and securing a high seed is the best route to playoff success.
What’s unique about the Sharks this year vs. last year is there seems to be a matter-of-fact attitude about leading the race to the Presidents’ Trophy. The Sharks know there are more important goals and that their regular season success will not be judged in the points race, but in the way they play every night.
“There’s no talk about the standings and playing in first place,” McLellan said. “It’s about our game and correcting things.”
Last year, San Jose was in Boston (who’s the opponent on Thursday) around this time and there was plenty of hype about the NHL’s top-two teams facing each other. The situation is different this year as Boston is second in the Northeast Division and tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with the New York Rangers.
“Last year at this time, we went to Boston and so much was made of the two No. 1 teams,” McLellan said. “It’s not like that this year and that’s a good thing for our team.”
The Sharks underwent more than just a physical change this summer when they brought in 11 new players. They also adapted their style and that style is making them more adept at close battles.
“We play a little different and that’s by design with the personnel and the system,” McLellan said. “Last year at this time we were a bit faster and smoother. We relied on the power play.”
The 2009-10 Sharks aren’t only content to grind out a 2-1 victory on the road like they did against Los Angeles on Monday, but they’re excelling at winning close ones. That’s helped them stay amongst the NHL’s top teams and most importantly, a resemblance to the type of game played in the postseason.
“The fact that we have to play a different, grind it out style is a good thing,” McLellan said.
Center Joe Pavelski enjoyed the last two games, even though the Sharks only scored four goals in those two wins.
“There weren’t a lot of goals, but it was good hockey,” he said. “We understand we can do it. We seem like a little tougher team and those are the type of games we need to win in the playoffs.”
One could think McLellan would be happy with having the NHL’s best record (30-10-7 for 67 points). But like any successful coach in any sport, not so.
“I don’t think we’re consistent enough,” McLellan said.
“It’s important to be consistent every day,” Pavelski said. “You can’t work hard every day of the week and have a let down for one game. Then you have to work to get that (consistency) back. That’s the part of the game you can control.”
McLellan isn’t saying he’s unhappy with San Jose’s performance in the last two games. But what he’s saying is he wants to see the same type of performance in each of the remaining 35 regular season games.
“We have to live in the moment,” McLellan said. “We can’t be happy with the past. You can’t be looking ahead or back. You’ve got to deal with the game at hand.”
“It’s a day in, day out process,” Pavelski said.
And being consistent will help the Sharks in the marathon that’s the regular season.
“You don’t win medals in a marathon at the 12-mile marker,” McLellan said. “We’ve got a long, long way to go.”
A QUICK RECAP
McLellan spoke about wanting consistency. He’s seen that come in three different ways.
“Our penalty kill has been consistent throughout the year and a strength,” said McLellan of the group that current ranks second in the NHL. “We had changes in the room and have very good faceoff people. They had to learn a new system and I give them credit for picking it up quickly.”
Most fans were counting on the offensive production being put up by newcomer Dany Heatley, but few were expecting Patrick Marleau to be leading the NHL in goals at this stage of the year following an offseason that saw him being relieved of his captaincy.
“You have to know Patty as an individual,” McLellan said. “You can second guess people all you want, but if you know them (like the Sharks know Marleau) you have a pretty good idea how to read them. There are some strong relationships and with Patty and his teammates and with the coaches.”
The Winter Olympics are almost a month away. McLellan is well aware of the extra grind the Olympics will put on his club, but he will deal with it when it comes to resting his players.
“The fact is, they will play eight more games and that’s a tenth of the season,” McLellan said. “We have to be aware of that.”
FASTEST TO 30
Marleau’s two goals on Tuesday night in Phoenix kept him in the NHL’s lead with 31. He’s in front of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (29), Marian Gaborik of the Rangers (28), Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Heatley (27).
Marleau became the first NHL player to reach the 30-goal mark this season when he opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the Sharks 3-1 win at Phoenix. It's the first time that a San Jose player has been the “first to 30” in a season.
SJO TO ORH
The Sharks have assigned defenseman Jason Demers to their top development affiliate in Worcester (American Hockey League).
San Jose will play hosts to Boston at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be available on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.